Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

WaSP Interviews Blake Elshire

On Student Experiences in Standards-based Education

Interview Conducted for 28 August 2006, by Rob Dickerson of the Education Task Force.

As a student of Interactive Media Design at the Art Institute of Dallas, Texas, Blake Elshire learned CSS as part of his course, then discovered that not all students were quite as charmed by the technology as he was. He shares his thoughts and insights with WaSP EduTF.


Thank you for agreeing to an interview Blake. Could you fill us in on your background and life as a student at The Art Institute of Dallas?


My name is Blake Elshire. I was born and raised in Oklahoma City.

I was always pretty nerdy growing up. I liked to hang out at one of my friend’s house from elementary because he was lucky enough to have a Prodigy subscription. Probably around 7th grade was the first time I was introduced to the “Internet” and began playing around with HTML. I continued throughout high school to keep a moderate interest in the web making Web sites for bands that I was in.

After high school I went through two different colleges, not doing well in either, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I tried a few things, but found my calling when a former roommate decided to go to The Art Institute of Dallas for Graphic Design. I had always loved design in general, and I saw that they had a Web program and wanted to meld my two hobbies into a possible career.

I started at The Art Institute of Dallas in 2003. The school started off with basic design classes for the first few quarters (AID is on a 11 week quarter system going year round), so we didn’t really get into Web design early. When we finally did, I was surprised to find out just how little I actually knew. I had been using tables for design for quite some time, and I’m even guilty of using the marquee tag here and there, but AID introduced me to the concept of CSS and it was never the same.

I’ve spent 3 years at the school: 2 years in an associates degree program, then switched over and I’ve spent 1 year so far in the new bachelors degree program. I’m currently one quarter away from graduating, and am looking forward to that very much.


Was it difficult to get your head around CSS the first time you encountered it?


I found the ideas and concepts behind CSS pretty easy to grasp when I first was learning it. However the implementation of those concepts through actual code was pretty difficult for me to get a hold of, probably because I didn’t fully understand how HTML and CSS were working together. Then of course the whole thing with CSS differences between browsers really blew the ship out of the water, and it took me a while to understand the major differences between browser implementations of CSS.


Knowing the challenges of browser support and CSS, you stuck with CSS, why?


The possibilities for styling just made me fall in love with CSS.

The benefit of separating content from style and behaviour really clicked with me. I saw how much it improved the accessibility of the page, how it improved the loading time compared to other sites and, when done right, the possibilities it provided for styling just made me fall in love with CSS.


You mentioned in a comment left on the WaSP site that some students had reverted to using tables for layout. What are your thoughts about those that end up using tables for layout and bad uses of Flash?


I think people learning the Web today have no excuse using tables for layout and poor use of Flash.

I think people learning the Web today have no excuse for using tables for layout and poor uses of Flash. We’ve gone past the experimental stage with CSS, and it has made its way into the community’s best practices doctrine.

I think that for students, now, it’s a problem with instruction. Problems with instructors teaching the old methods of Web development stem from the fact that they have not taken the time to re-educate themselves on common best practices, especially in a school that is specifically training you to get a job right out of school. It boils down to the fact that a bunch of companies are not using CSS and Web standards in their work, so the instructors teach what they feel actually goes on in the industry.


Now that many companies have made the move to CSS-based layouts, do you have any ideas on how to convince instructors to make the same move?


I believe what the WaSP Education Task Force is doing is one of the most effective ways of convincing institutions to teach the right methods. It takes people in the industry going into offices and talking with the instructors, and showing how these methods are actually used and aren’t just talked about.

I think it is also important to convince the administration workers that determine curriculum, because while some instructors may have the liberty to determine their own curriculum for their classes other instructors may be teaching older methods.


You also mentioned in your comment that a group of students has been able to convince the faculty and staff to move the program forward. How did this come about?


I was going through the program during a transition time. The school was beginning a Bachelors degree program for Interactive Media Design which would replace the Associates degree in Multimedia & Web Design. The instructors had a rough outline of curriculum given to them from the school, but could determine a few things themselves.

A few students and I got involved in the process because the instructors were willing to hear what we had to say about the program and how it could be improved. We talked over many aspects, mainly focusing on how to bring some classes that had really fallen behind up to date, such as the JavaScript class, and what else we might want to bring into the program, such as a stronger focus on backend programming and technologies, setting up webservers, more business classes, classes where you just played with some of the new technologies, etc. The instructors listened, and now the program is less instructional and more focused on things like learning how to learn and learning concepts and the explanation of concepts, instead of just saying “this is how you do a certain thing.”


It’s been a pleasure Blake. Any final thoughts?


Thanks for this opportunity, and I’m glad I could help you guys out in any way.

Blake Elshire is currently a Front End Architect at RD2 inc in Dallas, TX. He is also in his last quarter at The Art Institute of Dallas, and will be graduating with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in interactive media.

Referenced Links:

  1. The Art Institute of Dallas
  2. WaSP BuZZ: On Quality Education
  3. RD2 Inc

All of the entries posted in WaSP Buzz express the opinions of their individual authors. They do not necessarily reflect the plans or positions of the Web Standards Project as a group.

This site is valid XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS | Get Buzz via RSS or Atom | Colophon | Legal